Eastern Cape struggling to cope with Aids

There will be little to celebrate in South Africa and more specifically in the Eastern Cape this World Aids Day. The Eastern Cape health department has over four years failed to spend a staggering R172-million dedicated for HIV/AIDS treatment, training, development of healthcare professionals and the provision of nutrition.

This was recently revealed at a meeting of the Joint Civil Society Monitoring Forum (JCSMF) in East London. The forum, a group of organisations including the Aids Law Project, the Health Systems Trust and the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, meets regularly to assess the progress of Government’€™s treatment plan.

The Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) reported to the Forum that during the 2004/5 financial year the Eastern Cape Health Department underspent its overall budget by R50,83-million. The department also recorded under spending across all eight programmes, including the HIV/Aids sub-programme which failed to spend 12,73% or R16,8-million of its overall budget.

However, there are signs that the province is trying to turn the tide. There are now 26 accredited antiretroviral sites, with 20 operational and providing treatment at the end of September. They were treating almost 10 000 patients, including almost 1 000 children.

The patient target by March next year is 15 000 patients.

A report released on the eve of World Aids Day, Missing the Target ‘€“ A Report on HIV/Aids Treatment Access from the Frontlines, said that lack of effective national political leadership as well as the presence of ‘€œdenialism and pseudoscience’€ were barriers to Aids treatment for thousands of men, women and children in South Africa.

According to the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) which prepared the report, ‘€œit is clear that the status quo will not get people the treatment they need’€.

Specific recommendations for South Africa include launching an international campaign to hold government accountable and expanding human resources.

In another development, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and SA Medical Association (SAMA) have taken German vitamin seller Matthais Rath, health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, her director-general and other government leaders to court.

Rath has raised the ire of the health sector after setting up ‘€œclinics’€ in the Western and Eastern Cape with the help of the Khayelitsha branch of the SA National Civics Organisation and the National Association of People living with HIV/Aids. Both organisations were battling to survive financially before Rath’€™s foundation resurrected them.

TAC and SAMA are charging Rath and his fellow respondents with selling and distributing medicines which are not registered, selling products containing scheduled substances, making false and unauthorized statements that their medicines are effective in treating or preventing Aids, conducting unauthorized and unethical clinical trials on people with Aids and making false statements that antiretrovirals are ineffective in treating Aids, and are poisonous.

Government, represented by the health minister, has been charged with failing to take reasonable and effective steps to stop the unlawful activities of the Rath respondents, and to respect, promote and fulfil the constitutional rights of his ‘€œpatients’€.

The TAC and SAMA want the court to compel the minister and her director general to take action against Rath within a month.

Latest figures show that at least six million South Africans are currently living with HIV/AIDS, while 600 000 need antiretroviral treatment. According to Government, 86 000 people are currently accessing treatment via the state. ‘€“ Health-e News Service.

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